Four Walls and a Black Veil
What shall I do, Sire, with this black veil?
by Fahmida Riaz
Why do you bestow on me this great favour?
I am not in mourning that I should wear it
To show the world my grief. Nor am I sick
That I should hide my shame
In its dark folds. Stamp my forehead with this
Dismal seal? If I am not too impudent, Sire
If you assure my life, may I tell you,
Most humbly: There lies, in your perfumed chamber,
A corpse that stinks. It begs for pity.
Cover that shroudless corpse. Not me.
Its stench is everywhere.
It cries for seclusion.
Listen to the heart-rending screams
Of those still naked beneath the veil.
You must know them well, these maids:
The hostage women of vanquished peoples,
Halal for a night, exiled at dawn;
The slave girls who carried your blessed seed
And brought forth children of half status only, yet
Was it not honour enough for them?
The wives who wait their precious turns
To pay homage to the conjugal couch;
The hapless, cowering girl-child
Whose blood will stain your gray beard red.
Life has no more tears to shed; it shed them all
In that fragrant chamber where, for ages now,
This sacrificial drama has played
And replayed. Please, Sire, bring it down.
The curtain. Now. You need it to cover the corpse.
I am not on this earth merely as a signet
Of your great lust.
These four walls and this black veil—
Let them bless the rotting remains.
I have spread my sails
In the open wind, on the wide seas,
And by my side a man stands,
A companion who won my trust.
Translated by Patricia L. Sharpe